Malevich exhibition Mounted By Guggenheim

As Ellen DePazzi continues in her quest to create a memoir of David Burliuk's life in New York, the work of one of his contemporaries from pre-revolutionary days - Kasimir Malevich - is engaged in a tour of major art institutions around the world.

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum last month announced the exhibition and international tour entitled "Kasmir Malevich: Suprematism," and is considered the first exhibition ever to focus exclusively on the defining moment in the artist's career when he developed a system of abstract painting which came to be known as Suprematism.

Co-organized by the Menil foundation in Houston the exhibition will be presented in New York at the Guggenheim through September 2003, followed by visits to the Menil (Oct 03-Jan 04) and at the Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin (Jan-Apr 2004).

Kasimir Malevich is considered one of the seminal figures of non-objective art in the 20th century. From 1915 to 1932 he developed a system of abstract painting known as Suprematism - an art of pure form that was meant to be universally comprehensible regardless of cultural or ethnic origin.

Malevich was like Mondrian and Kandinsky in that he attempted to create an artistic utopia that became the secular equvalent of religious painting - in this case, intending to replace the ubiquitous icon in the Russian home.

The exhibition brings together approximately 120 paintings, drawings, and objects drawn from major public and private collections around the world. Included in the show are works that have never been shown in the West before, including several recently discovered masterpieces.

The show opens with a group of paintings and drawings from 1913-14 which Malevich called Algoisms, works composed of abstract signs, symbols, shapes, and word fragments that form a bridge between his prior Cubist phase and the breakthrough to non objective art. That watershed occured in 1915, when he painted a simple black square on a white field, setting in motion a series of art works that became the focal point for the pre-Revolutionary years of the Russian avante garde. Other works from this period show the artist exploring the expressive potential of this simple form, such as "Four Square," "Black Cross," "Extended Square," or "Painterly Realism."

Gradually Malevich's vocabulary evolved to include other forms in simple opposition, and it is here that drawing also became an important medium in his expanding formulation of Suprematism.

The exhibition will demonstrate the importance of drawing to the artist's broader oeuvre, in part through the presentation of works that have never been exhibited or published before.

Malevich's formulation of Suprematism evolved quickly. By late 1915-16 it had shifted from an aesthetic of static composition into an ever more dynamic realm, exemplifying his new desire to visually render different states of feeling and non-dimensionality. By 1917, however, he had returned to a vocabulary of simplicity, but this time anchored in less concrete form. The works are aethereal and seem to dissolve into imaginary space. Other works serve as an extensive dissertation on subtle transformation, as in his masterpiece "White Square on White," which would inspire a whole generation of contemporary artists in Europe and the US in the 60s and 70s.

Suprematism was also deployed into the realm of the practical, with Malevich experimenting with it as a means for social transformation through radical architectural form, in plaster studies he called Architektons. He also engaged in political art, conforming to the need to serve a new political reality while trying to remain faithful to his aesthetics - as well as venturing into the decorative and applied arts, like so many of his comrades and students.

But essentially Malevich remains a painter, and one who was completely devoted to the spiritual in art. This adherence to the metaphysical during a time of increasingly volatile social upheaval in Russia, where art became increasingly tied to the rigors of poltical process, ultimately led to the artist's isolation from the artistic vanguard. By the late 20s he folded Suprematism into an investigation of the figure, before completely abandoning it in 1932 for an art steeped in Renaissance portraiture.

The exhibition closes with a small group of these Suprematist figures, the studies for which definitely link them to the abstract system of the preceding 15 years.

(Information courtesy the Guggenheim Museum, 1071 Fifth Avenue, NYC)